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Friday, June 09, 2017

Did Moneyball teach us nothing? MLB is still selling jeans

“The draft is radically, radically different than 15 years ago, but probably not in some hugely measurable way when it comes to height and weight,” another executive said. “Maybe the interesting conclusion is that more teams than ever are leaning heavily on data to help them make smarter selections, yet players still look the same.”

Indeed, data is more important to every team now than it was in 2002. Not only do teams dig deep into college stats, like the Moneyball A’s did, but they have access to advanced TrackMan data from showcases and tournaments, or they have medical coordinators charting biomechanics and workloads. They have analytics departments that put that data into historical perspective. Some scouting executives are coming from the internet’s analytical community. The result of all this data appears to be, broadly, a confirmation of what scouting wisdom had been: Good major leaguers usually do make good jeans salesmen.

“Teams understand college data much better now than they did when Jeremy Brown was drafted,” said Nick Faleris, the co-founder of the scouting website 2080 Baseball. “What teams know now would point to Jeremy Brown going a bit lower than he was.”

That’s not to say there aren’t still players for whom subjective and objective indicators force difficult decisions. Faleris points to two: Prep shortstop Nick Allen is considered the best defensive shortstop in the draft, “with all the boxes you’d want to check off on a hitter, but he’s only 5-8—and that’s being generous.” And Vanderbilt outfielder Jeren Kendall is uber-athletic, with underwhelming statistics. “You look at Kendall, and you see a major league body, so people are overlooking some pretty significant warts.”

Balancing those two factors remains, as it was in 2002, a challenge—the draft is hard. But no team will ignore the players’ performances, and no team would argue that either player’s body is irrelevant.


Thursday, June 08, 2017

An Oral History of the Moneyball Draft

Delightful peek into this legendary stathead event. My favorite line so far:

Lewis: [McCurdy] looked like this unbelievable power-hitting shortstop, but it turned out the University of Maryland had like a 260-foot fence, and he hit a lot of 270-foot fly balls. So the next year they park-adjusted their stats.

PreservedFish Posted: June 08, 2017 at 02:38 PM | 46 comment(s)
  Beats: moneyball

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Fantasy Life: An Interview with Tabitha Soren

In 2003, Tabitha Soren went to the Oakland A’s spring training in Phoenix with her husband, Michael Lewis, who had just finished writing a book about the Oakland A’s front office, Moneyball, which would be published later that year. Soren brought her camera; she wasn’t a baseball fan, and she thought she would be bored. “I thought it was going to be a pretty place to shoot,” she told me when we spoke over the phone. She didn’t expect that project she began there would take her fourteen years.

Back then, Soren had only just begun her career as a fine-arts photographer. She first made her name on the other side of the camera, as the face of MTV News’s politics coverage in the 1990s, then as a reporter at ABC and NBC News. Since she left journalism to become a fine arts photographer, her photographs have been widely collected and shown. Her latest project, Fantasy Life: Baseball and the American Dream, chronicles the trajectories of twenty-one baseball players who began their professional careers at that spring training in 2003. Ten of them are featured in the book, which also includes a series of linked short stories by Dave Eggers; the larger show will be up at San Francisco’s City Hall from July 20 to January 6.

Swedish Chef Posted: May 11, 2017 at 03:29 PM | 4 comment(s)
  Beats: books, interview, minor leaguers, moneyball, photography

Sunday, April 02, 2017

New Yorker: The Dream Catchers of Pro Baseball

In her photo essay “Fantasy Life,” Tabitha Soren has captured this sense of tentative possibility. For years, she followed the careers of the Oakland Athletics’ 2002 draft class: twenty-one players, all drafted at the same time. A handful made it to the top, like the former New York Yankee Nick Swisher, who enjoyed a twelve-year major-league career, including a World Series title, in 2009; most did not. But in Soren’s pictures all of the men are in the throes of their own baseball fantasy. We see a rite of passage, and it seems like these players—arranged in a tidy pattern as they stretch out on the turf or scattered across the diamond before rows of empty seats—will be rewarded for their time served. This is how I felt during my pro career: it seemed like the ice baths and slumping Aprils, the mosquito-riddled outfields, were all part of our assured destiny.

A review of Tabitha Soren’s (yes, that Tabitha Soren) photo essay, Fantasy Life, by Doug Glanville. Includes 12 very cool pictures.

Infinite Yost (Voxter) Posted: April 02, 2017 at 01:11 PM | 0 comment(s)
  Beats: doug glanville, moneyball, oakland a's, photography

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Posnanski: Soren journeys from MTV to ‘Moneyball’ art

Billy Beane shouldn’t have taken those photos.

“Fantasy Life” is subtitled “Baseball and the American Dream,” and the idea behind it is striking ... and ambitious. In 2002, the A’s used a counterintuitive strategy, the now-famous Moneyball philosophy, to draft players. They didn’t concern themselves much with all those subjective things that had motivated scouts through the years—tools, body type, potential, etc.—and instead focused more on production and statistical analysis. Their most famous pick was Jeremy Brown, an All-America catcher at Alabama, who many scouts thought was too fat to play in the Major Leagues.
“We’re not selling jeans here,” A’s general manager Billy Beane famously said about Brown’s rather unathletic body.
“That’s good,” one scout replied. “Because if you put him in corduroys, he’d start a fire.”

Steve Parris, Je t'aime Posted: March 29, 2017 at 01:04 PM | 17 comment(s)
  Beats: athletics, billy beane, moneyball

 

 

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